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Devils Canyon
April 12 & 18, 2008
If I had to pick just one moment in the outdoors from the last year to call my favorite, it would be the afternoon in April that I relaxed beside Devils Canyon Falls. I was just sitting there enjoying the scenery and warm sunshine when the wind picked up and started scattering the water from three tall pouroffs to my right; it looked like millions of diamonds raining down.
Ever since I first started keeping a list of places I wanted to visit, Devils Canyon has been at the top. I first learned of it in the late 80's, when I bought a map of the Ozark National Forest at the Turner Bend Store. Back then I spent a lot of time in the fall deer hunting, and the map showed forest service property in good detail. The map included a list of "special interest areas" that described Devils Canyon as "an unusually rugged and beautiful gorge about 200 feet deep".
One time back in the early 90's before I'd bought my first GPS receiver I even made a half-hearted attempt to find a way down into the canyon from the west. But I couldn't even find the jeep road I was looking for that, according to my paper topo map, ran down into the canyon.
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I finally found good information on how to access the canyon when I bought Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook in the spring of 2003. The book warns that the bushwhack in and out of the canyon is brutal, so I've been waiting for just the right time to attempt a visit. I wanted to be in shape physically for a tough hike, and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time and that the weather wasn't a factor. I was most afraid of going when the steep hillsides were wet and possibly slick.
Finally everything came together on Saturday, April 12. We'd had a big rain two days earlier and I knew there'd be at least some water in the big falls. I went it to work for a few hours, then I made the 30-minute drive to the parking area above the canyon. I really only planned on finding out just how tough the climb down into the canyon would be, though I took my camera gear along just in case.
I risked taking a route that led straight downhill from the parking area. To my surprise it wasn't too steep and it took me less than thirty minutes to hike the quarter-mile distance to the creek.
There were two small photogenic waterfalls right where I first came to the bottom. These cascaded down multi-layered rock resembling shale. The lower cascade spilled into a nice pool of emerald water. The stream entered a narrow canyon just below the falls, so I had to cross to the other side and walk up above the canyon to continue in a downstream direction.
Soon I reached a fork where another stream came down from the northwest to join the stream I'd been following. I hung a right and headed up the new stream in the direction of the big 60-foot falls.
I hadn't hiked a hundred yards when I spotted a long cascade running down the hill along a side stream from the north. It appeared to be at least 150 foot in length.
A little ways upstream I came to a fantastic area that's kinda tough to describe.  Two nice waterfalls flowed down a steep, tiny gorge. The lower one ran down a chute of sorts and was maybe 12-15 feet tall, the upper one cascaded down and across a rock face and was 15-20 foot tall. I found it easy to get to the base of the lower one, and I walked across the top of the upper one. It was quite a sight looking down from there.
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I continued hiking the rocky stream bed, which had taken on a definite uphill trend. Less than 200 yards later I caught my first glimpse of the big Devils Canyon Falls. I wasn't at all impressed until I climbed up to the head of the box canyon, then I found the side view of the tall falls to be quite beautiful.
Conditions weren't good for taking pictures, what with the sun shining and the wind blowing. But during the hike back the sun had slid behind the crest of the valley, allowing me to stop and photograph a small drop in the stream with a lichen-covered stone backdrop.
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I returned the following Friday afternoon under cloudy skies. I spent over an hour in my crocs (got a new pair that fit better) wading around the first set of waterfalls.
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I also got a closer look at the 150-foot cascade, which I’ll be calling “water slide falls”. Along the middle section the water ran downhill over a solid chunk of flat bedrock about 75 feet long, then spilled over a lower falls about 8 feet tall into a small pool. Uphill about 40 feet I saw a shorter yet wider falls, but it was nestled in the bottom of a little canyon and I couldn’t get a photo of it from above.
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I’m amazed at the number of scenic treasures within the first half-mile I’ve explored inside Devils Canyon. My favorite area was the tiny gorge 200 yards below the big falls. By the time I arrived there the clouds had given way to blue sky. I waited an hour for the sun to quit shining on the hillside up above so that I could take some pictures. And once the sun finally went away, it got dark in a hurry. I haven't figured out how to shoot that location yet. It's a really neat area, but hard to capture. It doesn't help that two locations with possibly the best angles are practically inaccessible without ropes.
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